MN poetry: Heid Erdrich’s ‘Own Your Own: Cellular Changes’

Winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Award for National Monuments (Michigan State University Press), Heid Erdrich has authored four books of poetry and co-edited Sister Nations: Native American Women on Community, an anthology. Since 2007, Heid has worked with American Indian visual artists as an arts advocate and a curator. In 2010 she founded Wiigwaas Press to publish Ojibwe language books. Heid’s current project is a cookbook from the indigenous food movement in Minnesota. Her latest volume of poetry is Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems.

Own Your Own: Cellular Changes

Tiny robot tools remove

what doesn’t work in me.

Blue masks, gas, and a moment’s glimpse

of a many-armed machine.

The healers anthropologists

called sucking doctors

could pull poison from the body

in the form of feathered frogs, hunks of fat, bone,

or arrow points or stone —

never leaving more than a scratch.

The robot doctors work like that as they

clear me, clean me, delete what’s gone

crazy with my code —

never again to worry me, those

vaguely threatening cellular changes

to the smooth pink insides of imagination

where we expect our innards to work

in static and indifferent forms.

Except the womb, the best of us, the hot water bottle,

that one red organ we can make do for us,

the studio apartment where we

make the best of small spaces, make a home.

When it all goes wrong, we fix it. We give ourselves over in faith.

Blue masks, gas, and a moment’s glimpse

of a many-armed machine shaking rattles

and singing before reaching in me.

I wake up without memory,

thin purple line of incision, a thirst, and a word:

S.H.-H.E. in sharp marker on my belly, indelible initials

so the doctors beyond the robot doctors,

knew, in the moment they cut

I was theirs, I was me.

From Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems by Heid E. Erdrich © 2012 Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

  • James Cihlar

    Great poem!

  • Kathryn Kysar

    This powerful poem opens up so many issues and reflects on the medicalized experience in a cultural context. I cannot wait to read the book.